Doctor relives Gaza aid boat clash

David Halpin Mr Halpin says he was accused of being a terrorist
As a picture starts to build of what happened when 10 people were killed in an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship, a retired British surgeon has been remembering his own encounter with Israeli military.

Eighteen months ago, David Halpin, then 68, wanted to do something to show solidarity with the people of Gaza, so he joined 15 others on a mission to deliver medical supplies to Gaza.

Their journey was well under way when, at 0500 on 28 December 2008 - in 16ft waves and fierce winds - they spotted searchlights in the distance.

Gun boats fired flares into the sky and began to follow them, he said.

Half an hour later, about 60 miles from the Israeli city of Haifa, there was a tremendous crash, shortly followed by a second.

Start Quote

You don't ram a boat without intending to sink it”

End Quote David Halpin Retired surgeon

"It thought we had had it," Mr Halpin, from Devon, told the BBC.

"From the violence and power of the boat dipping, I thought we were were going to drown.

One of the Israeli captains then came on the radio and said, in English, "you are terrorists - we are going to shoot you", Mr Halpin claims.

"The boat started to take in water but the pumps were working well. We put on life jackets."

'No radio contact'

A fellow passenger told Mr Halpin: "I'm going to die - I can't swim." He told her he would stay with her.

Israel, responding to the attack at the time, disputed Mr Halpin's version of events.

The Israeli navy said the aid boat had collided with its boat and Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it had failed to respond to radio contact.

The 20m (66ft) boat, called the Dignity, was badly damaged but seaworthy enough to make the five-hour journey to Lebanon, followed all the way by the Israelis.

"The strength of the vessel saved us. I am quite certain he was intent on drowning us. You don't ram a boat without intending to sink it," he said.

And the horror of that moment stayed with Mr Halpin for months afterwards; every night he would wake from his sleep at the same time as the boat was rammed.

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